Meeting on the stoop is chatty step up

Gossip, camaraderie thrive outside door

July 16, 2005|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

It is not a backyard deck. It is not a wraparound porch.

It is the stoop.

And that is something entirely different.

In the city, the stoop is a gathering place, in the way of an African market, or a town square. It is a listening post. A haven and a hearth.

When the weather is warm, families, friends, neighbors and passers-by convene on the stoop and catch up on the day's goings-on. They pass messages and talk smack, they gossip. They cluck their tongues and hoot and whisper. They marvel at the babies: "Good Lord, that girl is getting big!" They stretch their toes and eat summery treats. They laugh and laugh and laugh.

On this 85-degree summer afternoon in the 1200 block of McCullough St., Kisha Jackson, 30, is lazing away on her day off from her job at United Airlines, sitting on the marble steps of the rowhouse where her family has lived for 25 years.

Tammy Lewis-Bey, 38, who lives next door, has joined her. They are cousins, but mostly friends. This day, they are also cohorts, in an attempt to convince one of the dozens of nieces and nephews and cousins who will stop by the stoop to go to the corner store and buy them something, anything cool.

Jackson's 20-year-old niece Mia comes by with her two little girls in a stroller. Jamiara is 2. Tykiara is 3 months. Their mouths loll open as they sleep, parked in front of the stoop.

Jackson complains at their heat-induced sleepiness. She wants to play with the infant.

"Is it supposed to rain again today?" Lewis-Bey asks no one in particular as she takes in the afternoon scene: the dusty park across the street, people strolling by. It's not much different from any other day when they are on the stoop - at least four times a week - as soon as hot weather arrives.

There are some days of high drama. A fight broke out once and Jackson, being nosy, got sprayed with Mace. Police come from time to time to shoo away loiterers in the park. But mostly, it's more of the same. And that's a good thing. A comfort. Life is unpredictable; the stoop is stable.

A man selling a pair of girl's jeans walks up. He opens his plastic grocery bag, shows his wares to the women, then thanks them and hustles down the street when they turn him down.

A friend of Jackson's father drives up and asks to use her cell phone to call upstairs. Various teenaged nephews in polo shirts and long shorts sidle in and out of the house, leaping over the women on the stoop, taking stairs two at a time.

"Pull your pants up!" Jackson yells at one. "If you don't stop openin' up that door, comin' in and out of that house ... " she warns another.

An ice cream truck jingles by and parks across the street. The boyfriend of one of Jackson's sisters rides up on an orange bicycle, buys himself a vanilla cone with sprinkles, sits on the stoop next door and licks. The sweltering women can only stare in envy.

After Mia leaves and the youngsters have dispersed, Jackson and Lewis-Bey have girl-talk. They laugh about Jackson's precocious 2-year-old daughter, Warnell, called "Woo," who is at preschool. They talk about a particularly poignant episode of The Montel Williams Show. They dole out advice: Who to see about braiding your hair; what to put on skin burned by Mace (milk, not water); what to say to a sweet but unwanted suitor.

It is nearing 5:30, and Jackson's daughter must be picked up from preschool. The cousins mourn the end of their peace and relative quiet, and the sad fact that an afternoon has passed, it's almost dinner time and no one has delivered them a sno-cone, a super-pop or anything cold.

Just then, three teenaged girls walk up to the stoop. One sucks on a red frozen cup - a homemade rendition of Baltimore's famous snowball, frozen syrup-flavored water in a Styrofoam cup. The girl's grandmother makes them just around the corner, just 35 cents each for any flavor you can think of.

"Is Michael here?" the frozen cup girl asks.

Jackson doesn't know the girl, but after teasing her a little, folds her arms and proposes a bargain. She'll tell Michael he has visitors if the girl promises to bring them each a frozen cup - egg custard flavor.

They agree, and Jackson and Lewis-Bey slowly rise from the stoop, off to pick up little Woo. "We'll be waitin' on that frozen cup," Jackson says over her shoulder.

She's hardly out of her spot before the three girls take her place. Her time on the stoop is over for the day. Theirs has just begun.

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